Sometime things happen in your life that you remember many years later. And you wonder why. Here are four that happened to me:
The time I shared a meal with an African-American
The time I almost didn’t hire a guy who was different
The time I was a guest in the home of an Aboriginal family
The time I lived in Asia as a member of an Asian family
My African-American dinner guests
American’s might be puzzled by this one, but you don’t see a whole lot of African-Americans in an Australian city. As a consequence most Australians have a picture of African-Americans manufactured by media and the entertainment industry.
The husband worked for the USA consulate, and I think perhaps his wife did too. He had a benign sounding job title but the vibes he gave off had me imagining him chasing Jason Bourne. The two of them were probably the most articulate and polite people I have ever had at my dinner table.
My Iranian right-hand-man
In my first ever job (local government) I was tasked to create a work group of four to be managed by yours truly. I was in my early 20’s. One of the applicants stood out as somewhat unusual. He was Iranian, in his mid-40’s, and had a PhD. I wondered how I would manage and whether he would work in with the others in the team. I talked to my boss, and he encouraged me to give the guy a chance.
Fast forward many years. Farrokh was the best right-hand-man/colleague I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Initiative, creativity, reliability, productivity, patience … measured anyway you like.
Visiting indigenous folks
The first time I visited Cairns (North Queensland) I somehow got myself invited to have a coffee at the home of a local family. Again, and like many Australians, my only experience dealing with Aboriginals was avoiding substance-abusers at railway stations, or watching a succession of grifters on TV bad-mouthing (non-aboriginal) Australians whilst helping themselves to untold millions of taxpayer revenue.
The family I visited were nice. They were friendly and hospitable. Their home was just like most Australian homes I had visited. They were ordinary Australians.
I lived for a time in an Asian country. Before that I had only had the briefest of visits to that part of the world. I learnt a lot there. About their culture and, subsequently, about ours. For example I learnt that concepts like ‘common sense’ and ‘good manners’ were not universal … they were specific to the country or region. So just because people didn’t act in accordance with the Aussie model of good manners, didn’t mean they were ill-mannered. It just meant that they were following their own version. Or sometimes they were ignoring both versions. Just like we do sometimes.
All four events at least somewhat surprised me at the time they happened. Why? No doubt someone out there will offer a theory.
As a consequence of these experiences, do I feel that:
all members of these various sub-sets of society are wonderful people?
that we should throw open the doors of Australia that everyone might settle here?
that I am guilty for something my ancestors did, or are alleged to have done to the group in question?
Not one bit. In fact, woke begone!
I do however better recognise that in the absence of first-hand experience, we do rely a lot on the media to form our opinions of others for us. And that the media often presents a distorted and incomplete image.
Diversity is another one of those buzzwords du jour – and apparently the cure for all that ails. Except there are a few problems.
Firstly, diversity is often not – in practice – extended to embrace many within the community. I’m thinking here, for example, of white men, non-feminists, and those with a conservative or right-of-centre political persuasion.
In this blog post for example I examined the example of a debate organised by the Diversity Council of Australia. In that example, diversity meant assembling two debating panels that represented or supported a range of feminist perspectives.
A couple of other examples are provided in these other blog posts:
Secondly, those who lobby for diversity tend to want to have it imposed by way of gender or racial quotas, selective recruitment, and the like. They do so despite the fact that such measures need not result in measurable improvements to organisational performance or community harmony, and may even be counter-productive in this regard. Indeed they are not averse to exaggerating or otherwise misrepresenting the benefits of diversity.
This aspect is discussed in these blog posts and others:
Thirdly, those who lobby for diversity fail to acknowledge, let alone analyse and debate, the negative outcomes that arise when achieving becomes the major determining factor when adopting government policy. Indeed, if we look at what is happening in some European countries now, such as greatly increased criminal activity, there is evidence of efforts being made to suppress such information.
(Postscript: It’s now 11 January 2023 and the Diversity Council has blocked me from their Twitter feed. I must be too diverse for their tastes. Or something)
July 2014 saw an unusual spate of pro-feminist articles appear in the Thai media, suggesting a concerted effort to raise the profile of feminism there. I first noticed this article in the Bangkok Post, one of the two main English-language newspapers in Thailand. It used a recent terrible crime (rape and murder of a young girl) as a vehicle to bang the feminism drum in a country that is wonderfully thus far relatively free of the feminist yoke.
Next I came across this article in a popular regional English-language magazine. It discussed a feminist get-together in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The author of that article, Hilary Cadigan, subsequently wrote a follow-up OpEd in response to comments from readers including myself.
That latter article appeared to greatly exaggerate the risk to Asian women in relation to marrying foreign men. Feminist scare tactics like this are ten percent motivated by a desire to protect the welfare of a small minority of Thai women potentially vulnerable to exploitation, and ninety percent about punishing western men who reject feminist-indoctrinated women as partners. (See this post as to one possible reason why)
Some might say “well perhaps Thailand is a country that could benefit from feminism?“. Well yes and no, but mostly no.
Firstly, and by way of background, I am fortunate to be somewhat familiar with the country and its people. I am also aware of the views of western women regarding Thailand, via personal discussions and many years of scanning media and online sources including expat fora. Whilst there are Thai feminists, online discussion and English-language media coverage is driven by female western expats who rankle at the nature of society here. Whilst a few are sensitive and understanding of the nuances of Thai culture, the vast majority are not. Indeed, the depth of Thai experience of too many western commentators is limited to media coverage of sex-trafficking and prostitution, and perhaps a stroll along Pattaya’s Walking Street during a brief holiday stopover.
Unsurprisingly, Thai society does have its share of negative features. As in the west, some of these impact disproportionately against girls and women, some impact disproportionately against men and boys, but most affect people of all genders. Chief among this latter group of factors is the huge disparity between rich and poor within Thai society.
I have two concerns, the first of which is the nature of feminism and its potential impact on Thai culture. My second concern is more general and involves those who seek to superimpose western mindsets and ‘solutions’ onto completely different cultures.
The primary vectors for feminism in Thailand are western women working in international organisations (e.g. various UN agencies, World Bank, etc), in a myriad of western NGO’s and charities, and to a lesser extent in the media.
Readers should also recognise that in Thailand, as in many other countries, there is a substantial financial dimension to feminism. This mainly comprises a large ‘rescue’ industry that focuses on ‘helping’ women and girls. Never mind that the majority of people trafficked in Thailand are men working in the fishing and construction labor industries, who are the recipients of negligible assistance (and none whatsoever from feminist organisations). This gender bias by aid organisations is a world-wide phenomenon, and is addressed in this other blog post.
My own view is that feminism (or at least that form of feminism now dominant in western society – ‘gender feminism’) is not the remedy that’s needed to effect lasting positive social change in Thailand. The affect of this pernicious ideology would simply introduce new biases and inequities, whilst further eroding traditional aspects of Thai society worthy of being maintained.
A few background articles that might be of interest are:
(As an aside, I note this last article includes a reader’s comment: “A group of female tourists in Thailand posted their responses to sex tourism in a video, and received some harsh backlash”. Well, gee, western women volunteered some biased and fairly harsh criticism of the behaviour of western men and received some of the same in return. This happens in grown-up society. Instead of childish pouting, why not address the specific points raised?)
Earlier generations of Australian women were mostly empathetic to a fault. Nowadays, definitely not so much.
Empathy with the resident citizens of overseas countries
Some time ago I was reading the results of a survey of overseas travelers. It found that most travelers were disturbed by displays of cultural insensitivity by fellow travelers. Unfortunately the survey did not breakdown its results on the basis of variables such as gender.
This got me thinking about my own experiences living and travelling in Asia.
Thai culture is quite conservative but Thais will rarely inform tourists when they have crossed the border of social acceptability, unless they venture far beyond the bounds of decent behaviour. Expressions of polite conduct such as kreng jai – the Thai version of our ‘good manners’ – is highly important to them.
Mention Thailand and most people think of men behaving badly. And indeed some men do … as do some women. The difference is that those western men who misbehave tend to do so within touristy nightlife areas, in many cases within recognised ‘red light areas’. Their behaviour generally involves drunken debauchery within the confines of go-go bars or the like. There is nothing laudable about this, but at least the local Thai people in such areas tend to be inured to witnessing this type of behaviour. Outside these areas I have witnessed exceedingly few examples of western male travellers displaying overt cultural insensitivity.
In contrast I have seen many examples of western women behaving inappropriately outside the bar precincts. A common issue is that of wearing skimpy and revealing clothing in and around temples, and in public places such as markets or parks. This occurs despite the fact that any guidebook on Thailand clearly states that such clothing is considered unacceptable, as well as there being signs installed in many locations.
On this note I happened across the following comments by a female editor of an English-language magazine in Thailand:
“Then there is the trio of English lasses who were found wandering around Wat Phra Singh a few weeks back in their bikinis! It has nothing to do with cultural insensitivity or ignorance. It is just a willful refusal to give a crap. Their grandmothers would have taken a wooden spoon to their bottoms had they trotted into the local church dressed that way.”
I have never confronted anyone about this particular transgression, but from discussions in online forums the attitude seems to be “this is my style, why should I have to change to suit them?”, or they are old-fashioned/sexist and *they* should change. I have also noticed plenty of instances of western women exhibiting exceptionally intrusive, pushy and loud behaviour in public places (particularly for example during community events).
Anyway that’s what this correspondent has noticed in going about his daily business, but discussions with Thai women revealed some other issues. These were women who either ran businesses, or worked in other peoples shop-front businesses (not bar-related, I hasten to add). I must first explain that Thai women are generally in awe of western women, and in general there is no underlying animosity whatsoever.
One after the other these women told me similar accounts of their dealing with western female customers, and of their surprise, dismay and occasional anger at the rude behaviour they often encountered. This included body language (like eye rolling and pained expressions) plus clicking noises of annoyance, and rude gestures and insulting words.
As noted, these were just my own observations – what do others think? Are western women travelling overseas less inclined to observe and maintain local cultural decorum, than western men? And if so, why? Do you think it might it be related to an increasingly overdone feeling of entitlement, and of being beyond criticism/censure? That sense of feeling oneself to be a ‘special snowflake’?